Sony // 2013 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 15th, 2013
A thrilling journey to the deepest reaches of your darkest fears.
For a while there, Michael Cera was the new face of comedy. Between Arrested Development and the one-two punch of Juno and Superbad, he was inescapable (which caused a lot of burnout and hate from some viewers). The next year was less fruitful for him with the bomb of Year One and 2010 saw him excel in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, but the gravy train was grinding to a halt. Cera wisely took a breather from his typecast role as the loveable nerd and laid low for a bit, emerging infrequently for smaller roles. Magic Magic finds the young actor trying to stretch, playing against type in a multilingual thriller that pairs him with another couple of young up-and-coming actors (Juno Temple and Emily Browning). Though the actors display serious chops, the overall effect of Magic Magic is less thrilling than it could be.
Sarah (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch) is a university student in Chile, looking forward to her sister Alicia's (Juno Temple, The Dark Knight Rises) visit. At the last minute, though, Sarah has to take an exam, leaving Alicia with friends, including fellow expat Brink (Michael Cera) and budding hypnotist Agustin (Agustin Silva, Crystal Fairy). Alicia is having trouble sleeping, though, and it becomes obvious that something isn't quite right on this trip.
The main thing that Magic Magic has going for it are the trio of performances that anchor the plot. Michael Cera is obviously trying to break the mold that was put around him after the success of his nerd-comic persona. He doesn't even try to be likeable in Magic Magic, instead offering us a character who's much more complex. Emily Browning and Juno Temple aren't going quite so far from their previous roles in this outing, but both give admirable performances nonetheless. Temple has the lion's share of the work as Alicia, who may or may not be going mad. Her transformation is impressive. Browning has a little less to do, but she sweetly maintains her own sympathy in the face of her sister's meltdown.
Director Sebastian Silva is obviously capable behind the camera as well, offering a view of the actors that keeps viewers guessing, both about the mental state of Alicia but also the intentions of the other characters. Atmosphere -- filmed and set in Silva's native Chile -- is paramount, and Silva strives to balance the beauty of the landscape with the threat it obviously seems to represent to Alicia.
Magic Magic gets a pretty decent DVD release. The 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer is pretty good. The film seems to have been shot on a digital platform, which probably explains some of the limitations of the transfer. Detail is okay, but many shots have a softness to them. Colors are sometimes a bit muted, and black levels aren't always rock-solid in their consistency. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is a bit better. Dialogue is clean and clear from the front, with the surrounds mostly getting their workout from atmospheric effects.
The disc's lone extra is a 15-minute making-of that features the usual input from the cast combined with on-set footage.
The problem with Magic Magic is a problem that plagues many thrillers that center around the possibility of mental illness. Cinema is really good at giving us a false picture of the world. More importantly, it's really good at giving us a false picture of the world that doesn't seem to be false. Films like Magic Magic play with this fact, keeping viewers on their toes about what exactly is going on in the world of the flick. The problem comes with the ending; the film has to come down on one side or the other offering an explanation of manipulation or madness. Most true thrillers opt for manipulation, showing us how the characters (and usually we viewers) have been duped. More atmospheric films will usually side with madness or some other nebulous explanation, which is what Magic Magic does. So, while the ride of the first two thirds is really enjoyable, the final act is going to be really divisive for some viewers. No real explanation for Alicia's situation is offered, and the ambiguity of the ending will definitely be frustrating to some.
Magic Magic doesn't quite deliver the goods with an ending that fizzles more than it tantalizes. However, the combo of solid direction from rising star Sebastián Silva and an excellent trio of lead actors working to stretch their performance muscles make the film worth watching for fans of the actors or director.
Not magical, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R